- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

American News, Aberdeen, Aug. 6, 2014

GOP fails on EB-5 scandal

Did you know that the EB-5 scandal in South Dakota is all done?

No one wants to ask more questions, so there must be no problems.

We know this because state Republican lawmakers on the Government Operations and Audit Committee said they aren’t interested in learning anything more.

They refuse to issue a subpoena to Joop Bollen of the Aberdeen-based SDRC Inc. Bollen is the only person alive who, we assume, can shed light on South Dakota’s use of the EB-5 program to generate funding for some businesses, including the failed Northern Beef Packers plant.

Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton and a candidate for South Dakota governor, was plowed over last week at a GOAC meeting. Despite her attempts to get the Legislative panel - dominated by Republicans - to call Bollen to testify, she was met with a resounding “no.”

“I think this is outside the scope of what we’re talking about at this time,” Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg, said by phone during the meeting, according to a story by American News reporter Bob Mercer.

Outside the scope, you say?

In fact, the GOAC was tasked with learning about EB-5, the controversial program that recruits foreign investors to put money into U.S. businesses in an effort to seek U.S. residency.

Clearly there were problems with the effective administration of EB-5 in South Dakota, culminating with the actions of Richard Benda, the state’s former economic development director, who apparently double-billed the state $5,559 for three flights and redirected $550,000 in economic development money for his own use.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said last week that Benda would have been charged with felony theft had Benda not killed himself in 2013.

Benda was employed by SDRC.

So, wouldn’t state Republicans, those eagle-eyed truth-seekers, want to interview the last man who might know what’s going on?

While the GOP has been quite vocal about such “scandals” as “Benghazi,” ”Obamacare” and Common Core, state Republicans are turning down the chance to investigate a real, live scandal in their own backyard.

One they actually have a chance to do something about.

But they don’t want to know anything more.

The EB-5 controversy has been a black mark on South Dakota and state leadership. It is a complex issue and investigation, made more cumbersome by the tangled personal and/or political relationships of former Gov. and Senate candidate Mike Rounds, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Jackley and Benda.

We can’t believe that state legislators know all there is to know about how the state used EB-5, and who could have stopped its misuse.

What’s more galling is that those lawmakers don’t think you need to know anything more.

For shame.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Aug. 8, 2014

VA answer may be private care

When the scandal broke about how some U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs systems were falsifying records to hide inadequate treatment for veterans, we were initially relieved that the Black Hills VA Health Care System was not one of them.

We were disappointed to learn last week that an internal audit by the VA found that the Black Hills VA, in fact, was one of medical care systems that manipulated records. According to the audit, 14 percent of schedulers said they had been instructed to manipulate patients’ requests for an appointment to make it appear that the Black Hills VA was responsive to veterans in its care.

VA policy is to enter the date a veteran requests for an appointment as the “desired date” even if that time is not available. Some VA staff members were told to change the requested date to one closer to the next available appointment. This was done to make it appear that the Black Hills VA was following VA policy better than it was.

An audit of 900 VA facilities in the United States found 112 systems with questionable scheduling practices, including the Black Hills VA Health Care System.

“The scheduling issues raised by the VHA audit are very serious, and I am particularly concerned about the problems pointed out at the Black Hills VA,” Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said last week.

President Obama signed a VA reform bill on Thursday that halts scheduled bonuses for VA employees, and appropriates $17 billion to allow some veterans to seek private care if necessary. The bill also gives newly confirmed VA Secretary Robert McDonald the authority to fire senior officials for mismanagement.

Throwing money at a problem is Washington’s way of claiming to have solved problems, but if the private care option improves medical care delivery to veterans, it should be expanded.

There’s no excuse for neglecting veterans and manipulating data.

Our nation’s veterans deserve prompt attention and quality medical care.

If the bureaucrats at the VA are more interested in falsifying records to make it appear that they are doing a good job than in actually delivering quality medical care to veterans, then privatizing medical treatment for veterans may be the best solution.


Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Aug. 2, 2014

Put the brakes on billboards

Traditionally, South Dakotans have been quite accepting of billboard advertising, at least along our highways.

The Wall Drug messages are part of our history, and any trip to the Black Hills will tell you we certainly are not overly restrictive in regulating billboard advertising.

But that’s not necessarily the philosophy we want to adopt concerning the use of billboards in Sioux Falls.

The city’s new Shape Places ordinance has opened up more locations for billboard placement. Nineteen applications have been made for new billboard permits in the three months since Shape Places took effect. That’s many more than in a typical year.

We might want to slow this process down a little.

Councilor Greg Jamison, who is on the council’s land use committee, has indicated that city leaders might look at possible changes to the billboard approval process.

We think that’s a good idea.

It’s not wise to tinker with every phase of the new zoning ordinance. The rules were changed to make things easier and to streamline zoning requirements for developers and others. That’s still a good goal.

But when concerns arise as they have in the billboard discussion, it’s good to take a closer look. Should billboard permits be approved without a property owner’s knowledge? How many intersections in all should host billboards, and what’s the right balance?

It would be wise to examine the mechanisms for review and oversight on this topic.

Outdoor advertising firms are negotiating long-term leases for their billboards. So it’s important to get things right at the start.

This is not a new concern. Since Lady Bird Johnson led the charge in the 1960s that resulted in the Highway Beautification Act, most states have adopted some form of billboard regulation.

A handful of states have prohibited the boards altogether, but most have some basic controls in place.

Local communities have struggled to balance the right number and location of the signs with businesses’ demand for their use.

And the introduction of digital boards has reinvigorated that debate.

Sioux Falls certainly should have some constraints on billboard placement. After all, we have some well-defined rules on the use of yard signs, banners and portable signs - even on the use of window shadings for business advertising.

Let’s study the billboard approval process and make it as responsible and as reflective of the community’s feelings as possible.

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